Trivial And Nonsensical Rules In Congress

Sure, Congress may be experiencing its least popular decade ever, and, yes, they've passed significantly fewer bills than we typically expect from a healthy Congress, but that shouldn't distract from the Legislative Branch's incredible legacy over the last 250 years or so. When they overcome partisan biases and work together, they can establish some exceptionally trivial and nonsensical rules like...

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5
On The Floor, There's Only Milk And Candy...In The Senate Restaurant, There's Endless Bean Soup

The year is 1966. Illinois senator Everett Dirksen engages in debate over labor laws but soon realizes something dark. Something terrible. Despite ready access to water, Dirksen remains a thirsty little bitch, and he realizes "water becomes pretty thin after a period of time." Dirksen musters every last ounce of his waning strength to ask, "Is it in violation of the Senate rules if the Senator for Illinois asks one of the page boys to go to the restaurant and bring him a glass of milk?"

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According to the history books, the officer in charge then checked the official Senate Handbook and determined, no, nobody gives a shit if you drink milk, Everett. So Dirksen grabbed a fresh glass of milk and the Senate at large took the time to write down that: Senate rules do not prohibit a senator from sipping milk during his speech. You still can't drink soda or whiskey on the Senate floor, but no senator shall be deprived of his God-given right to cow-juice--so help us God.

This is just the sort of stuff Congress was most concerned with during the Civil Rights Era as just one year prior, in 1965, California senator George Murphy began keeping a shit-ton of candy in his desk drawer to share with other bored lawmakers. The practice stuck, and to this day there is a designated "Candy Drawer." Who runs it changes often, but the drawer reached its nadir during Rick Santorum's 1999 run during Bill Clinton's impeachment when there were nothing but Peppermint Patties.

Still better than Mark Kirk (R-IL) who went with Tootsie Rolls, Gum, and fucking <i>popcorn.</i>  We might have some idea where all those eggs are coming from every Halloween, Mark.United States CongressStill better than Mark Kirk (R-IL) who went with Tootsie Rolls, Gum, and fucking popcorn. We might have some idea where all those eggs are coming from every Halloween, Mark.

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And 60 some years prior to that, some other Congressional geezer decided if he was going to spend all godforsaken day passing laws, he'd better well be able to eat some bean soup whenever he well pleased. It's not clear which senator started the tradition of ensuring bean soup is always on the menu at Senate restaurants, but for over 100 years, being elected to office has come with the dope-ass perk of unlimited access to both "The Famous Senate Restaurant Bean Soup" (mostly navy beans and ham hocks) AND the entirely different "Bean Soup" which is also navy beans and ham but is somewhat sexed up with potatoes and onions.

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4
The Senate Can't Vote If People Just Don't Show Up

One of the primary arguments against term limits in Congress is how complicated modern politics has become. In theory, by the time they would learn "how it all works," a lawmaker's term would expire and some other goober would come in and attempt to learn the ropes. This would be tragic as newbies might not be able to effectively utilize exotic maneuvers like one often used in State-level politics called "Quorum Busting."

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We'll see if we can try to explain it to our non-professional-politician readers: If somebody in Congress doesn't want a bill to go to vote because they're worried it won't go their way, they can... just not show up. Like literally they can just run away. If there aren't a certain amount of voters physically in the room, nobody can vote. That's it. That's the whole move.

The sergeant-at-arms is allowed to compel senators to come in and vote (and they've physically carried assholes onto the floor before), but they can't do anything if they cross state lines. Now, we're going to go out on a limb and guess that most members of Congress aren't exactly peak physical specimens, but if enough senators manage to charter a bus or jack a Honda, all of Congress grinds to a halt.

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And this isn't just some crazy thing that used to happen in the 1800s that involved high-speed covered wagon chases. GOP Oregon state Senators pulled this trick way back in... 2019? They didn't want to vote on a climate bill (naturally) that'd already passed the House. So they literally ran away to Idaho, of all places. Eventually, they returned after it was determined there weren't enough votes to pass the bill with or without them. So it was all for nothing. Who says American politics are nothing but theatrical bullshit?!

3
They Go Way Out Of Their Way For Acronyms

It's one thing to come up with a law that will enact meaningful change, but it's another thing entirely to convince your fellow lawmakers to actually pass the thing. You can argue a law's merits by showing statistics, commissioning research studies, or polling constituents, but there's no guarantee. So, instead, most politicians apparently spend the time they would have wasted on research carefully crafting rad acronyms for their proposed laws.

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We're talking next-level shit like kicking down the doors of Congress and demanding they pass your motherfucking "Robo COP Act." Sure, the actual law has nothing to do with creating an android police force and, in fact, actually stands for "Robo Calls Off Phones" but nobody will focus on semantics when you fire your shotguns akimbo into the ceiling and demand a vote on your Robo COP bill.

Admittedly, this would give most scam callers pause. Orion PicturesAdmittedly, this would give most scam callers pause.

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Similarly, imagine how much effort it must have taken to create anything coherent for the acronym "Opportunity KNOCKS." They definitely hoped that'd give the bill some sex appeal and that nobody thought too hard about how it actually stands for the nonsense word cluster "Opportunity Kindling New Options for Career and Knowledge Seekers." How can you not pass this law? Think of the knowledge seekers!

Other high-water marks for laws that sound good on the surface but are a clumsy mouthful when un-acronymized are FORVETS (Formerly Owned Resources for Veterans to Express Thanks for Service Act), PHEASANT (Protecting Honest, Everyday Americans from Senseless And Needless Taxes), and the classic USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism... Act).

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Sure makes S.H.I.E.L.D. seem a lot less stupid, huh?

2
They Get Free Paper Based On The Population Of Their State

While Congressional bean soup perks are doled out equally, there are some benefits that scale depending on the number of constituents they represent. For example, senators are allowed each year a certain amount of free, tax-payer funded "blank paper, letterhead paper and envelopes" for their office to use, but lest we think this paper is handed out on an unlimited basis, it turns out their paper quota is based on a very specific formula.

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According to the law, they get "one and one-third sheets of blank paper per adult constituent." Why you'd need an extra one-third sheet of paper is a mystery only known to the Founding Fathers and is presumably the focus of National Treasure 3. USA Today helpfully notes that as of 2014, this would mean that "The Illinois senators each receive 11,605,333 sheets of blank paper; the West Virginia senators receive only 1,874,667."

Which isn't great for small states, but to make up for it they do get <A TARGET=_blank HREF=https://www.fairvote.org/population_vs_electoral_votes>out of proportion political power</A>, so it's probably a wash.sfam_photo/ShutterstockWhich isn't great for small states, but to make up for it they do get out of proportion political power, so it's probably a wash.

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On the one hand, it makes sense to not force our senators to make endless Staples runs every time they need to spam their constituents with letters about how hard they're working and how much bean soup they're putting down, but it's a little goofy to regulate paper amounts so specifically in a world run primarily by email. And also it's a little fucked up how much the law puts Rhode Island at a major disadvantage in the annual Congressional paper airplane competition.

1
On Wednesdays You Can Talk About Whatever The Hell You Want

As this current iteration shows, many Congressional rules appear exclusively designed to slow the process down and make everything take forever. From one perspective, maybe it's a good thing we can't just constantly pass laws whenever the fancy strikes, but from another, do we really need to dedicate an entire day to Representatives who just want to talk about whatever bullshit law they're interested in that week?

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See, usually it takes a lot of work for a bill to be officially discussed. It has to pass through several hoops and get past the Committee on Rules. Unless, of course, it's Wednesday. On "Calendar Wednesday," anybody can bring up for consideration literally any bill that has been discussed at some point in the history of Congress.

You can see how randomly suggesting we talk about how you think it'd be really cool if we brought back Prohibition would be sort of a waste of time and distract from more pressing legal considerations. As such, the House of Representatives usually votes to bypass this pointless exercise, but there are always exceptions and occasionally a group of whoever happens to be the Minority Party will vote to let it go through so they can waste time and slow down discussion on bills they don't want to talk about. It's just another way to fillibuster -- that is, talking about stupid shit for so long nobody can vote on the important bills.

Jordan Breeding also writes for a whole mess of other people, the twitter, and is hoping to soon pass the KICKASS Act (Kindly Include Crustaceans, Kansans As Subhuman Species Act).

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